Abby first met Matthew Disney 12 years ago at a fancy-dress party and send off for a tour of Afghanistan. At the time he was loud, eccentric and the life and soul of the party; someone people might describe as a ‘bit of a character’. Fast forward to today, and those traits are still apparent.
These days, however, Matt has grown to channel his enthusiasm, determination and creativity for the greater good: creating seemingly impossible challenges for himself to conquer, all in the name of raising money for causes close to his heart.
Catching up with him recently to discuss the many trials he has already been through; the physical tests of his challenges, the aftermath of being unfairly put on trial by the media and what he is cooking up for himself as he pushes on ahead and continues to inspire people undeterred by any setbacks.
Q. So, what made you start doing challenges and when was your first?
Matt: My first challenge was January 15th, 2019 and that came about because the year earlier, I’d planned to put myself through a gruelling set of tests for my 35th birthday. Rather than the generic going out for drinks, or going out for a meal, or even being lavish and going away on holiday, I thought no, I’m going to take myself down to the gym and beast myself. It started with one test, then it evolved to three. However, earlier that year, my van had disappeared in Bulgaria (https://www.facebook.com/voteltravels/) the van reappeared via a Bulgarian getting in touch with and asking when I was going to to collect it after it was stuck in his car park for a year and a half.
I was unaware of the whereabouts in Bulgaria it was, so I went to collect it under the assumption it was going to take ten days. Unfortunately, it took two months, three engines, two turbos, two clutches and getting stuck in four countries and I missed my birthday. So I didn’t get to beast myself, I thought what can I do? That’s when I dreamt up starting a page: a platform to inspire other people, while raising money and awareness for charities. I came up with a series of challenges and started my first one the following year.
Abby: What happened to the van? Did you get it back?
Matt: Yes. The van has 309,000 miles and many stories. It’s had completely new organs so it’s a brand-new vehicle pretty much.
Abby: How many challenges have you done so far?
Matt: I have done, I think, about seven challenges. Five in 2019, two so far for this year and I’ve got a third coming up.
Abby: So, you started your Facebook page: are a lot of the people who follow you ex-military?
Matt: As I was in the Royal Marines for 9 years, I obviously built on that. It’s now branched out a lot further, which I’m happy about. It went from Marines, to the rest of the military, then all the friends and families, their friends and people who have come across me whilst I’m doing my challenges, so it’s inspired a lot of people. It’s been great and we have met many people some who have no relationship to the military at all have come across the page.
Abby: You’ve also started a community group… are a lot of these people you’ve met involved with that?
Matt: Yes, I’ve started Disney RM Community with an intention to cross purpose the page itself. To challenge myself and push to be a better, to inspire others and to increase awareness for good causes and charities that I’m raising money for. A lot of the focus of the page has been on the fundraising which has inspired people, but I hadn’t managed to focus on the community side, so I started the community group for that reason. I started it in May.
Abby: What type of charities are you raising money for?
Matt: I started raising money for a split pot. One was close to home, The Royal Marines Charity which basically looks after the families of serving Marines and veterans who are in times of need. The other is a good cause called Rock 2 Recovery, which basically looks after the whole of the military, who suffer serious depression, PTSD or are considering suicide. At the start of 2020, I raised money for the NHS- front line workers for shortage of PPE. The next challenge I am looking to support will be a new cause but I haven’t quite decided which one yet.
Abby: Do you find people in the community feel it helps their mental health to be taking part in the challenges and having people to talk to online?
Matt: Yeah, I was feeling I was having to put effort in for the first couple of weeks, maybe even a month, but since then it’s grown its own legs and takes care of itself. People will ask for advice about anything from nutrition and calories; to their mental health, fitness and exercises. It’s just been really good to see how the community are motivating and inspiring. helping each other and lifting each other up.
Abby: How many people have joined?
Matt: So far, just over 1900 people whereas the page has 11,000 supporters. (NB. 1900 in a few months is fairly impressive in this interviewees opinion)
Abby: And are the people from all over the UK?
Matt: International, actually. So, when I first started the community, I started it with a challenge, which lasted the whole of June. We had people taking part from Canada, America, Ireland, UK, Sweden, Germany, Middle East, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore.
(Matt’s partner): I think it brings diversity as well in the community, because even though you might not be engaged in a lot of the conversation that goes on, some people who aren’t necessarily majorly interested in the stuff you post will post something unique engaging a lot of other people.
Abby: Do you find that some members of the community take more of a lead or are more active?
Matt: We do have key people, as Facebook has developed in recent times, people as authors or story tellers. I’d say there’s about 15 people who do contribute frequently. What does make me smile is I find myself approving all my members’ posts, who have never posted before, or who I didn’t realise were a part of the community and seeing their engagement as well.
Abby: So obviously, I remember last year, and I’m going to have to ask about the Mont Blanc situation, how did you deal with that?
(Note for readers: Last year during one of Matt’s challenges climbing Mont Blanc, weather conditions forced him to end the challenge and leave his rowing machine in a shelter on Mont Blanc. This was met with outcry from the mayor of a nearby town and made international headlines.)
Matt: At the time it was a shame that it became political. The mayor had for 6 years been trying to enforce stricter rules on the mountain and used this event to gain support for his own agenda. I can understand that side of it, but it was upsetting when my intentions were good, all the safety checks were approved by different officials: the mountain police, the white brigade and two other channels for them to quickly back pedal.
Abby: What exactly happened?
Matt: So, I was 392m away from the top, but we had a complete white out that had come in eight hours earlier. Visibility was down to less than 15m, and it wasn’t just for the safety of myself and my team, but more that the other people climbing the mountain could have been in danger from my climbing with a rowing machine. I had to make an executive decision to return to the emergency shelter, park the rower there and come back to retrieve it. I openly explained before it hit the newspapers that I always intended to bring it back down when it was safe to do so. That was then taken out of my hands. The silver lining from all of this is that it’s now made me more aware of being cautious of the possibilities for upsetting anyone if something went wrong in a future challenge.
Abby: Has it put you off doing challenges abroad?
Matt: Probably yes, (laughs) without invitation. There is a precedent for the British and French not always getting on that well, in a comical manner, and I suppose that’s become a bit more crystal clear. But yes, I managed to annoy a whole country.
Abby: Looking ahead then, what are your plans?
Matt: I’m juggling two things at the same time since starting the community page. I started that with the calendar club challenge, which was tiered depending on your ability, age, for which one you wanted to do. Secondly my focus is on my next challenge which unfortunately is a long process organising as it involves Guinness World Records and 6 new world records. I don’t want to neglect the community whilst this administration is going on, so I’ve given them a three-month bodyweight calisthenics programme. I’ve had a great email today regarding my next challenge, so one more step in the right direction.
Abby: So, six brand new world records that don’t exist…?
Matt’s partner: As simple as that! (laughter)
Matt: With regards to the record attempt I was going to apply for the greatest distance. I spoke to someone who made me aware of a Para who was the first person to do the London marathon carrying a weight of 20lbs, he’s also the first person to do a half marathon carrying that weight, he had applied for both. My friend suggested breaking this down, so long as they were all challenging goals. When I looked even my smallest record would still be a hell of a push. They aren’t comedy toy records; it has its own weight.
Abby: Have you had anyone try to repeat your past challenges?
Matt: Yeah, I think I’ve seen at least seven different people carrying rowing machines around the world. I get lots of messages or tagged or DM’d saying have you seen this person.
Abby: Do you have a lot of local support?
Matt: Yes, I did a meet up this weekend. I sent out an invite, and not an organised event just for legal reasons and liability insurance, but more telling people my intentions and if people just happened to cross paths and want to join me, then happy days. It’s like going down to the lakes with your friends, except with strangers. What’s the saying? Strangers are just friends you’ve not met yet. It was great. We met some great people.
Matt’s partner: Very like-minded, and that came through. Everyone who we met. That shone through to me; the community is full of like-minded people, even if you haven’t met in person and that’s the power of social media, I guess.
Abby: Well during lockdown you wouldn’t have been able to meet up, so people relied on online communities.
Matt: My intention was to go do Snowdon, Wales’ highest peak, and climb barefoot to the summit. This is in preparation for me doing a big daddy challenge next year that will see me doing 60 days barefoot. I’m not going to release any more information. Just to see if it is feasible. I did Scafell Pike a week ago barefoot. Then we did Snowdon and went up Watkin’s path which is said is the second hardest path which I didn’t know at the time.
Abby: When you do your challenges people do come along to support and help you, don’t they?
Matt: Yeah, I’ve had people from Blackpool come down. There was a policeman from Blackpool who came and supported me through quite a significant portion of the North West: helping move my vehicle and supplying me with drinks and ice pops. Someone else from the Preston area walked through the whole of Preston with me. When I did the challenge at Blackpool Football Club, climbing the height of Everest on a revolving staircase in Sub-9 hours, I had people turning up to support. Not just friends, but all different local people. The owners of the BFC gym itself, didn’t know me, and kindly allowed me to use their Stairmaster. They came out and kept checking on me. I was gifted a hotel room that night from one of the social media reps from Blackpool Football Club.
Matt’s partner: It’s always like people want to help, but don’t quite know where to go, so people from the community have reached out.
Abby: Do you see yourself doing these challenges for the rest of your life? Is there an end goal, or do you just want to do as much as you can?
Matt: I’ve got three challenges planned, leading up to summer next year. I did get injured recently and sprained my ankle because I was on uneven ground. I didn’t notice it and carried on, and when I got 19 miles into marathon day, my body just put the handbrake on. I’ve been very fortunate, because I went through the Royal Marines training; which some say is the longest, most arduous training around the world, I actually did an extra ten weeks on top, and I came out with no injuries. All through service and challenges, I had no injuries until the calendar club challenge, so it was kind of a shock. But I see myself continuing to take on challenges for as long as I am able. I want to do this for as long as I can as I am passionate about continuing to inspire people and continuing to better myself.
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